The shortage disproportionately impacts families on federal assistance programs like WIC
U.S. Rep. Matt Gaetz (R-FL) and Rep. Marjorie Taylor Greene (R-GA) speak at a news conference on Republican lawmakers’ response to the January 6th attack on the U.S. Capitol on January 06, 2022 in Washington, DC. During the news conference, Gaetz and Greene said that federal agents were allegedly present during the insurrection and the ones inciting the riot. (Anna Moneymaker/Getty Images)
By: Jon Skolnik/Salon
On Wednesday, nine House Republicans voted against a bill to help low-income families access baby food amid the nation’s formula shortage, arguing that parents on federal food assistance benefits would be depriving middle-income families of the products they need as well. Now those same Republicans are defending their vote by pointing to America’s most vulnerable families as the true cause of outrage.
The bill, dubbed the “Access to Baby Formula Act” (HR 7791), would allow the U.S. government to waive a number of restrictions for families on Special Supplemental Nutrition Program for Women, Infants, and Children (WIC), which helps low-income families access baby food. Roughly half of all formula products are purchased through the program.
Rep. Marjorie Taylor Greene, one of the bill’s detractors, called WIC a “problem” and implied that low-income families might hoard the products for themselves. The Biden administration, Greene said during her radio program this week, aims to make WIC “an even bigger customer, when in reality many of the parents that can’t buy baby formula for their baby, they’re not on the WIC program.”
“The WIC program is making it more difficult for them to buy baby formula because if you’re on WIC, if you’re someone that needs to be on that government assistance, you’re allowed to buy as much baby formula as you want to with your WIC vouchers and they’re increasing that for those parents,” the conservative freshman added
Rep. Andy Biggs, R-Ariz., echoed Greene’s sentiment, saying that the bill “would make baby formula shortages worse for most Americans.”
“It will allow WIC to utilize a far greater portion of the baby formula market, crowding out many hard-working American families,” he added.
Rep. Matt Gaetz, R-Fla., also joins the chorus, parroting Biggs’ talking point to a tee.
Though Republicans have sought to paint low-income families as potential opportunists amid the shortage, families on WIC are in fact most likely to be impacted by the scarcity. That’s because the shortage is in large part driven by a recall recently issued by Abbot labs, America’s chief manufacturer of baby food, whose products serve 90% of families using WIC, according to the Agriculture Department’s Food and Nutrition Service.
According to Roll Call, the Department of Agriculture has urged states to have “maximum flexibility” for families on WIC, encouraging states to allow recipients to purchase different brands and sizes of formula. However, that order is legal only because the U.S. is still in the midst of the COVID-19 crisis, meaning that once the public emergency declaration is lifted, Congress would have to pass a bill providing WIC recipients with more formula options.